Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Impressionist artists were linked by what might be called color sensationism and fugitve effects of light and motion, each one having very much their own individualitic style. Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), in particular specialized in the human figure, a compassionate admirer of what was beautiful in the body and the simple pleasures in the day to day lives of humans.

Renior was the son of a tailor from Limoges. When father decided to move to Paris in 1845, the young Renoir was sent to work at the age of 13 as an apprentice to a painter in a porcelain factory. In the late 1860's Monet and Renoir worked closely together painting similar scenes at La Grenouillere, on the Seine. While Monet was attentive to the ever-changing patterns of the nature of ( as in his series on the Rouen Cathedral),Renoir was swept up by people and often painted friends and lovers. While pleasure could be decried by the puritanical instinct within us all, it is surely the necessary enhancer that life needs. Renoir seems to have had the enviable ability to see anything as potentially of interest and depicted with attention to his good self humor the intimately delightful scenes of the French middle class at leisure in the country or at cafes and concerts in Paris. He deliberatly set about looking at life at the surface-- the sensation of something, its generalities, its glancing life. ...an impression. His work seems to tell the observer.....Maybe, ideally, everything is worthy of attentive scrutiny, but in practice there is no time!

His predilection towards light-hearted themes was influenced by the great Rococco masters, whose works he studied in the Louvre. He first exhibited at the Salon in 1864; after that the jury rejected his works and only in 1867 accepted Lise, a portrait of his model and lover Lise Trehot. It was there that he met and became friends with Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Jean Bazille and became a leading member of the group of Impressionists who met at the Café Guerbois as well as a founder member of the review L’Impressionniste. In 1880 he met Aline Charigot, a common woman, whom he would marry in 1890, they would have 3 sons. He exhibited at 4 of the 8 Impressionist exhibitions but later found the purely visual aspects of Impressionism dissatisfying. Renoir admired the work of Gustave Courbet, Watteau, and Fragonard and always felt the importance of studying the masters at the museums.

Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, for his subjects---pretty children, flowers, beautiful scenes, above all lovely women---have instant appeal, and he communicated the joy he took in them with great directness. `Why shouldn't art be pretty?', he said, `There are enough unpleasant things in the world.' He was one of the great worshippers of the female form, and he said `I never think I have finished a nude until I think I could pinch it.'

Among his most well known works are Bathers, The Umbrellas and Luncheon of the Boating Party and the great composition of Le Moulin de la Galette, one of his finest, most smiling of his masterpieces, the models for which were his friends, mostly artists, and Montmartre girls. It is like a marvelous tissue of interwoven sunlight and soft hazy blue In his portraits and society paintings, Renoir masterfully rendered the shimmering interplay of light and color on surfaces, the prime goal of impressionism, but also kept an underlying sensuality.

Renoir endured many hardships in his early career and it wasn't until dealer Paul Durand-Ruel began buying his work regularly in 1881 that he bagan to experience succcess in portrat painting. After experiencing a period of time which he referred to as his `manière aigre' (harsh or sour manner) in the mid 1880s he turned to presenting more timeless subjects, particularly nudes. His style becoming grander and more simple and he began to paint mythological figures (The Judgement of Paris; Hiroshima Museum of Art; 1913-14) preferring the more ample and mature female form. Rheumatism eventually crippled him and by 1912 he was confined to a wheelchair. However, he continued to paint by strapping a brush to his wrist until the end of his life. In his last years he also took up sculpture by directing assistants, usually Richard Guino, a pupil of Maillol to act as his hands (Venus Victorious; Tate, London; 1914).

One of his sons was the celebrated film director Jean Renoir (1894-1979), who wrote a lively and touching biography Renoir, My Father in 1962. Renoir died in Cagnes on December 3, 1919 and was buried in Essoyes, next to his wife Aline.

Selected References

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
1991. Mark Harden's Artchives:

Olga's Gallery:

Pierre-Auguste Renoir:

Web Museum:

More? See:

Realism and Impressionism and Neoclassicism and Romanticism

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